Bombay Begums and India’s #Metoo Movement

Scrolling Netflix one day for my latest series to binge (hurry up with season 6 Outlander!), the top suggestion of the moment was Bombay Begums. Bombay is more currently referred to as Mumbai, its ancient name before the British thought Bombay was more fun to say, and Begum is an aristocratic or royal title for women who are “up there.” In the context of this series, which at first, I thought was going to be a reality show about rich, film-industry connected Indian ladies of leisure (alas, Netflix already has one of those), “begums” refers to high-powered career women and those trying to climb the ladder.

So, spoiler alert. Rani is the powerful CEO of major Bombay bank. Fatima is fast on the rise in her career in finance with a husband lagging behind her. Aisha is young, pretty, ready to climb but needs to figure herself out first. Finally, Lili is a street-smart former prostitute who wants to earn her money with respect. The series is narrated by Shai, Rani’s stepdaughter who has figured out the power of women long before the grown-ups have. Long story short—these women all become more intertwined than you’d think they would at many points at odd with each other, but finally coming together in a quad of strong women supporting strong women. The biggest common denominator among them all? They’ve been manipulated, abused, and made to be complicit by the men who dangled the keys to success in front of them. Smart and competent women all of them, but voiceless until they all start talking to each other.

India has a patriarchal culture that happens to have a lot of very strong and brilliant women working their way through it. Indian women are entrepreneurs, CEOs, doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, artists, writers, filmmakers, actors, and society-shakers. Yet they too face the same dilemmas women around the world face in navigating their place in whatever fields they choose to conquer. And like so many women around the globe, finding their voice to speak out about the abuse many of them have suffered has been key to taking back their power and paving the way for the women who follow them. In a culture that clings to tradition while embracing modernity and innovation, the clashes between them are great and often frequent.

Sexual harassment in the workplace has often been sadly seen as part of the job. But as we all well know; all it takes is just one person to come forward and the house of cards quickly crumbles.

German website DW.com published a piece about the movement taking root in India.

 “Like in other places across the world, the #MeToo movement generated discussion in India about sexual harassment within the workplace, particularly in the entertainment and film industries.

As an immediate aftereffect, more women were encouraged to speak up against their harassers, both publicly and anonymously.

Filmmaker Vinta Nanda had spoken up against veteran Bollywood actor Alok Nath, whom she accused of rape. ‘Before the movement, I was afraid to move because I felt isolated and ostracized,’ she told DW. But now, she added, ‘I know I am not alone.’

‘Most of the others who have spoken out feel the same way as I do and that is one massive step forward that the women’s empowerment movement has taken,” she said.’*

In this context, a series such as Bombay Begums is groundbreaking as it sheds considerable light on a serious problem. This happening in a country where many women—no matter how educated or high-powered they are—fall victim to the same discrimination, harassment, abuse of women regardless of socio-economic background. Given that the series also portrays sex, adultery, and a woman’s choice in them (topics Indian media and film/tv productions tend to gloss over), the show makes a strong statement about the bodily autonomy of women.

In one particular scene, Lili witnesses Aisha being sexually assaulted by a senior team member of the bank and tries to stop it. The stereotype dictates that Lili, as a prostitute is used to, even accepting of, a man using a woman’s body at a whim. But the narrative blows the lid off that: Lili has done what she has needed to do to provide for her son and herself. But it is her choice, even if it’s not the ideal choice. So, when she sees another woman being forced to give up her body autonomy 1. She doesn’t question Aisha. She sees what is happening and calls it out. 2. There is no dawdling over consent—she saw that questions answered in Aisha’s eyes and body language. And she’s ready to testify.

Women don’t usually get assaulted or harassed with a witness nearby. And even when someone is willing to corroborate their story, the risks of telling the truth are sometimes too great to take.

But like with many things, there is strength in numbers. As women in India and around the world, get better at believing each other, being willing to stick their necks out for each other, and stand together, it is becoming increasingly harder for the perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault to blend back in the shadows. And when men stand with women, the effect is even more powerful. This is how it must be.

As the male character who assaulted Aisha said (and I’m loosely paraphrasing), “It’s getting harder to be a man with this #metoo stuff.”

And while we know it’s not all men, that is exactly the point of speaking up.

* https://www.dw.com/en/india-metoo-women-rights/a-56785203#:~:text=In%20October%202018%2C%20the%20global,social%20media%20and%20other%20platforms.

Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

Safe

Women, why can’t we be safe? Why can’t we walk outside at night without clutching a key through our fingers like a weapon, speed walking to get to the car fast, always trying to get an escort or a group of other people to walk with?

Why can’t we get into an elevator in a strange building and not immediately tense up when men get in with us? Why do we always have to look over our shoulders, carry pepper spray, share our locations with loved ones on our iPhones when we drive anywhere alone?

We do this because we could get hurt. Still. After all this time. Nothing has changed.

As children, most of us were taught to turn to the police for help. To call 911. To use all the programming on our smartphones and in our smart cars to make that call for help just one touch away. But what happens when your name is Sarah Everard?

If you aren’t familiar with her, Sarah Everard was a young British woman who lived in London. She did all the things you’re supposed to do as a woman walking alone at night in a big city, and yet she went missing. Days later her body was found and a London police officer was soon charged with her murder. The situation, which occurred a few weeks ago has ignited London in protests against violence against women and frustration that in modern cities, women still aren’t safe.

The parent in many of us and the concerned human being in all of us may have a knee-jerk reaction of “just stay at home and don’t go out anywhere if you are alone.” If you have young girls or women in your household, it’s tempting to extoll the virtues of an early curfew or stay-in nights. But it’s not practical, nor would that idea ever take root.

Because we aren’t living in the chivalrous days of long ago where women had protectors of both reputation and body. We are our protectors—of those same two things. But all the Take Back the Night Marches (that originated in the 1870s), haven’t changed this familiar story. A woman is out alone. A woman is found raped or beaten, and/or murdered. It happens in busy cities, on well-lit college campuses, in small towns, and pretty country roads. We all have stories—of people we know, or people we’ve heard of. Of we have the first-hand experience, running the gamut from harassment to outright crimes being committed against us. There isn’t a woman anywhere who doesn’t have a story to tell.

Is it simply bad luck?

What would it take to make it safe for women to be out, doing whatever it is they are out of their homes to do and to know they can make it home without fear?

A male friend of mine suggested that men need to have curfews. A nice idea, but in all fairness, perhaps all of us need them, and it doesn’t solve the problem of violence against women that still occurs in broad daylight.

Why do the sick men who commit these acts view the night hours as an open season and the women they see in the streets as objects to be hunted? Their psychology is one forensics experts and mental health professionals have studied for years. But there is no winning formula for keeping women safe that any of us can apply. We do our best—and that is all we can do. The rest, sadly, seems up in the air.

The solution isn’t entirely in more lightbulbs in parking lots, buddy walking services on college campuses, women evacuating the streets at dusk, or even in curfews for men. But I think strides can be made in ways we collectively have not done the best in thus far.

It starts with the birth of baby boys and takes off from there. Teaching little boys about respect, consent, protectiveness out of empathy and compassion, not dominance; helping them to understand from a young age that the safety of others—especially women—is part of their responsibility as good human beings. Females and those identifying as females should not have to fear men when they are out at night by themselves.

What would the world look like if more men were raised in such a way and continued to raise their sons in that fashion? What if society and the media advocated for treating each other with kindness and care, that in looking out for one another, especially the more vulnerable, we were contributing to something greater than ourselves? That sounds like something akin to utopia, doesn’t it?

We may not get there in our lifetime, but we can certainly do what we can now. Keep the conversation going. As males, think about things you might unknowingly do that positions you as a threat and change that. How can we see our allies better and how can they be of more help to us?

In the meantime, ladies—pay attention to your God-given instincts. Don’t second guess yourself. If something seems off, or if you have strange feelings about a situation, listen to them. Try to protect yourselves all the ways you possibly can. For now, it’s all we can do.

Photo by lucia on Unsplash

This post and additional exclusive content is available on my podcast The WiloPod on Spotify.

Women of Infinite Worth: All of Us

I’m a day late to International Women’s Day. Because like many women around the world, the day just got away from me. But since this month celebrates women and our accomplishments, I can still post today without shame.

Do you have a running list of people you admire? What about women you admire? I fall into the latter grouping. While there are people from all walks of life whom I admire, I am especially drawn to women to have accomplished things despite great odds, who are voices of wisdom in tough times, women whose resilience is a constant inspiration, women whose hearts flow with the love of God, young women who have not let age or circumstance stop them from going after the things they are passionate about. The list goes on.

As a woman, finding other women to look up to, to draw motivation and inspiration from is important to me personally. We all are drawn to people whose lives resonate with our own. And female role models are important to our sense of self. When we get down about ourselves (something many women struggle with), having someone to look to for an example is crucial.

Wives, mothers, creators, innovators, healers, educators, rabble-rousers—women of infinite worth, all of them.

This is my running list, not listed in rank or importance.

Malala

Michelle Obama

Dr. Jill Biden

Laura Bush

Gloria Steinem

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Judy Blume

Kamala Harris

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Smart

Greta Thunberg

Florence Pragasam

Diane Evans Carlson and all Combat Nurses—especially Vietnam War era.

Amanda Gorman

Maya Angelou

Mia Karimabadi

Aretha Franklin

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Female Whistleblowers and Silence Breakers Everywhere

Naomi Osaka

Angela Merkel

Mary, the Mother of Christ

These are just a few. Who are yours?

Compassion Against Condemnation

Pro-life, pro-birth, pro-choice. None of it is easy. All of it needs empathy.

Ahhh, the Facebook comments during this particularly insane season of American life.

I’m going to hone in today on a topic that defines the vote for a lot of citizens. In a post by a well-respected Christian lawyer and writer, he discussed all the reasons why a vote for Donald Trump flies in the face of what it means to be a follower of Jesus—with special regard to the emulation of His life and character. The post, well-articulated and factual, was hard to intelligently argue against. It was long too—7-8 paragraphs in the Facebook world—long.

After all that, readers weighed in on the matters discussed. And then of course were the “Nope, Trump 2020, end of story,” comments. I wondered if those commenters even bothered to read the post at all. If they didn’t, ok. Ignorance is bliss? But if they did read it, was their devotion to Trump that blinding?

But then there was this: “I would never vote democrat because democrats are all baby killers and wanting to perform abortions at 9 months and beyond!”

Say what, now?

I don’t normally wade into the fray with strangers, but this woman was begging for a rebuttal.

I wasn’t going to bother with her “abortions at 9 months and beyond,” ridiculous statement. Yes, Dems are running around killing full-term birthed babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Aaagh.

This type of “argument” Lord, help me, caused me to articulate a few things to her, though.

My response kinda went something like this: Democrats don’t enjoy abortion as a flippant past time. But there are many things to consider for a woman facing the tough decisions surrounding an unplanned pregnancy. What are her circumstances—financial, social, mental, spiritual, etc.? What if she has no support from family and friends and/or is very young? What if she was raped? What if she was in an abusive relationship and her “partner” threatened her life if she didn’t end the pregnancy? What if she was married with other children and she could not mentally, physically, financially support another child? The scenarios go on and on.

On the flip side, if a woman has the support she needs, resources, and funds—help in general—to raise a child with access to healthcare, education, and daycare? Well, then wonderful! What if she is a potential success story, where the unplanned pregnancy spurs an engagement that turns into a loving and healthy marriage, and all is well? That’s a dream ending we all wish for.

But it’s a gamble, isn’t it? Trying to see into the future to know if something is going to turn out great in the end or if it’s going to be the beginning of something far, far worse.

It’s tough to type those words. I’m a mother. My first child was not planned. We were newlyweds and our lives were far from ready for parenthood. I was terrified. But I did have a loving, supportive husband, a job, health insurance, and our circumstances and support system were such that our first baby was just an amazing surprise. Not every woman is so lucky.

And it’s because of that I can’t tell another woman what to do.

But in following the example of the Christ I love, my response to any woman in that tough and scary situation is to love her and offer support and compassion no matter what her decision is. She is not responsible to me, or the to government, or even to her church. Her life and her choices are only between her and her God—if she believes. Because I do believe, I know that whatever guilt and grief, or relief and elation—are hers and God’s to process. And the Lord I know, has a compassionate and understanding heart, even when we go down paths that don’t yield the best results.

I feel strongly that while my choice might be different from someone else, I support another woman’s God-given gift of free agency to choose and not have to harm herself in that choice. My calling is to respond with compassion and not condemnation—again, regardless of the path chosen. Our job is not to judge, but to love.

While thinking this topic through over many days before deciding to say something, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, a lot of documentary watching. Life, when abortion was illegal, took many women down dangerous, heartbreaking paths. Women died. Women had their fertility permanently affected—denying them the chance at future parenthood for a time that would have given their offspring a much better chance in life.

People will not stop having sex outside of marriage. Unplanned pregnancies will still occur. And every culture on the planet has “ways” to herbal or otherwise, halt a pregnancy. But what would it look like if those who spend time condemning, judging, and making decisions for others, actually channeled that energy into creating programs that offered hope and a way forward if an unplanned pregnancy continued? What if more access to affordable birth control and thorough, honest sex education changed the conversation, and eventually outcomes? What if more parents talked honestly and openly about sex to their children? What if people scandalized less, and loved more, thus removing stigmas that some women just cannot live with?

In the end, is the goal to punish women who don’t do as they’re told? Women who don’t fit the mold someone else created for them, a mold they had no voice in?

If the conversation is really about pro-life and not pro-birth, why aren’t its proponents advocating for everything possible to give a child, of any race or socio-economic background, all the opportunities that child and its mother deserve? You want to make a woman give birth, but then deny her every help afterward to ensure she and her child move through life in an upward trajectory?

Think about that.

RBG the Renegade

Like many, I greatly respect Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I use present tense because though she is no longer with us, her legacy can’t be erased (though some may try). Anyway my utmost respect for her isn’t going anywhere.

Over the last couple of months, every time there was a news alert that she’d been hospitalized, both my husband and I would cry out into the ether, “Just hang on until November. Just hang on, Ruth!” And she’d battle back.

But Friday’s news alert gave us no opportunity to pray for her health. The news told us only what we feared would happen. That she had passed to her rest, and of course, what that awful news would mean in the light of Donald Trump and his hijacking of the Republican party; who for the most part, appear to blindly follow him no matter where he goes.

There is a lot at stake for progressive people if he is goes through with naming her replacement and the confirmation goes through.

So instead of wallowing in this bad turn of events (among nearly everything about 2020). I decided to learn more about this diminutive woman who wielded so much power–not just for her job, but who she was as a mighty, mighty, human being.

So, like so many I’m sure, I finally watched RBG on Hulu this morning. And goodness–was she a woman my heart loves. Brilliant, hardworking, funny, principled, disciplined, persistent, wise, and loving, yes loving.

What I love about a good documentary on a person is how you often get to see the human side of a legend. RBG was a woman who thought deep and went after things women of her day weren’t encouraged to do.

Her husband Marty, the love of her life, played a big part in her pursuit of law, being drawn to her brilliance and beauty at Cornell University. She married young (as women did in her day) and had a baby. And then she went to law school. For any woman who has balanced advanced studies while raising a family and nurturing a marriage–you know what that entails. But few probably know that Marty–also in law school at the time–went through a bout of cancer then. And it was Ruth who organized his friends taking notes in class for him (that she would type up late in to the night before tackling her own studies), and cared for him and their two-year-old girl while staying on top of her own work. And she excelled at it–all of it. That sort of stuff deeply resonates with me.

When she graduated and went to find a job, most law firms had firm policies about not hiring women. She eventually found her niche, growing both her family and her career. The cases she was drawn to were ones that could actually change the laws of the day–making life more equal for women in many arenas.

And then came the day when she was called to the Supreme Court of the United States–by a progressive president who recognized the type of talent and wisdom what could only serve this country well.

She and Sandra Day O’Conner were the only women on the bench at that time. And the fashion statement of her varied collars was something the two came up with together. The robes allowed room for a man’s tie to show–so they both wore something that let the whole world know they were women as well as justices of the highest court in the land.

While not a social butterfly, she was a friend to many. Even Justice Antonin Scalia–a man who was not the easiest person to befriend. An avid lover of opera, Ruth and Scalia actually starred in a production together. Their joint interviews showed the depth of their respect and care for each other, even if they had profound differences over the law.

Her life is filled with lots of lessons for us to learn from–especially in these times we find ourselves in.

If you don’t know much about RBG, watch the documentary of the same name. There are other films to check out as well. Read up on her. Watch interviews. It’ll likely make you sad that she isn’t here anymore, but hopefully it’ll give you a reason to stand up, speak out, and carry on her legacy in your corners of the world.

And a final thought–especially to all us sheep and snowflakes–vote. There is no sitting this one out no matter how much you dislike the Biden/Harris ticket. The last time some Americans let complacency rule the day, we got what we have now. An utter dumpster fire.

It’s time to douse it out and get rid of it–in her memory and to honor her incredible, incredible legacy.